If you are a regular of AutoZone Park in Memphis, Tennessee there are a couple of items you probably ponder regularly: Is AutoZone Park the best stadium in Minor League Baseball? Should Stubby Clapp run for mayor? And is that video board larger than most MLB stadium boards?
As the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals who reside only 4 hours up I-55, the Memphis Redbirds exemplify the effect of regional balance and farm club allegiance. Simply enough, Memphis is Cardinal Country and the Redbirds are a child of that. For a city that loves its blue (University of Memphis Tigers & Memphis Grizzlies), a common Redbird’s game is blanketed with red shirts and caps.
If you do not know who Stubby Clapp is, then you should know before going to AutoZone Park. It will save you the time of asking your seated neighbor, “Whose number is that on the bullpen wall?” He played for four seasons for the Memphis Redbirds (’99-’02) as an infielder and is still the fan favorite. As he took the field, Stubby would knock out a back flip that captured the attention of the crowd, especially the kids. Hard work and enthusiasm will line the path to the city of Memphis’ heart.
The video board at AutoZone Park is the newest, but not to be the last major addition to an already state of the art ballpark. Missing from most man caves is a 3,600 square feet HD screen to be fed statistics and replays. The Memphis Redbirds home has that and much more.
The first pitch was thrown in the year 2000 at AutoZone Park. Although that year implies it might be seasoned, the venue shows minimal wear and all of the locals still call it “Our new ballpark.” Strategically placed in the heart of downtown, a family evening at AutoZone Park exposes everybody to so much more. You might drive down Riverside Drive and see the mighty Mississippi River on your arrival. You could park near the legendary Beale Street, or walk by the infamous Peabody Hotel or simply stroll close enough to catch a whiff of the smoke from the world famous Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous BBQ restaurant. Getting into AutoZone Park can be half the fun.
As you can easily guess from the namesake, the stadium bears the title from AutoZone Inc. whose corporate office resides in downtown Memphis. The structure itself resembles Camden Yards, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, which is not by accident: these cathedrals were used as models. The outfield walls measure 319’, 400’ and 322’ going from left, center to right. There are 14,320 fixed seats and standing room brings capacity to 18,000. Bob Dylan drew 14,500 to a concert in 2013.
Walking around the stadium you will find your standard seating behind the plate, dugouts and the upper level. But, the table seating in right field and the grassy knoll in left field are unique in themselves. These are opportunities to take in a game with your party/family in a different manner than usual. AutoZone Park and its staff have gone out of their way to give the patrons different ways to enjoy a ball game. You do not have to love baseball to enjoy an evening here, and what really makes it great, is you do not have to love baseball to enjoy multiple evenings here.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
You can tell yourself you are not going to get a BBQ nachos from the Rendezvous Stand because you might spill it on your shirt. You can tell the people around you and they could agree. Some might even have the same strategy. Unfortunately, for you, someone around you is going to get a BBQ nachos and the negotiating is on. Watch as the aroma makes its way down that section and across that row...and watch how everybody tries to find someone who will split one with them. It is almost comical.
The culinary experience at AutoZone Park is the exact definition of extraordinary. They have all the 'ordinary' items: hot dogs, popcorn, pizza, burgers, sodas and beer. On top of that is the little extra that makes the difference. Besides the aforementioned BBQ nachos, they also offer a grilled veggie dog, chef-carved roast beef wrap and a BBQ baked potato.
Scattered throughout the park are stands that sell adult beverages beyond the domestic light beer. For instance the Redbirds Roost Third Base Bar offers premium beers, wine by the glass and frozen margaritas. Conveniently, located just beside this bar is the 'coolest' place in the park. Industrial fans blow a cool mist on the area...thus, making it the most popular spot at times during the brutal summer heat. It is a very common place for kids while their parents order drinks.
AutoZone Park may be a victim of its own success when it comes to atmosphere. As compared to other minor league ballparks, the atmosphere has a nice level of intensity, attention to the game and the competition is evident. But, considering the proximity of the Cardinals, the easy access to stats plus replays and the sporting nature of the town in general, the ball game is not always the center of attention.
The food, the 'extra' items (detailed below), and the overall social nature of most patrons seem to take over. If the Redbirds make a run, the crowd pays attention and everybody enjoys winning more than losing. But, a loss does not ruin anybody's evening in the stands.
Unfortunately, the AutoZone Park atmosphere is held to a standard more similar to a Busch Stadium or other MLB parks rather than a AAA or other minor league venues.
In 2013 the Memphis Redbirds experienced its third straight increase in attendance. Almost 500,000 people attended a game that season and 12 games drew more than 10,000 people.
If you are a fan of rural venues surrounded by agriculture, then this won't be the stadium for you. Everybody else will love this ballpark. Elite hotels like The Peabody and The Madison are within walking distance. Historic Beale Street and Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous BBQ restaurant are short walks away as well as Tom Lee Park which borders the Mississippi River.
If you do not like walking, there is a horse drawn carriage ride always available just outside the entryway. Your guide will take you where you want to go downtown and will also offer plenty of history and interesting information about the area.
Some people have already eaten all the BBQ they want, a feeling Memphians struggle to understand, but if that is true then try Huey's. Just a block from the park, Huey's wins awards for the best burgers in Memphis every year.
And not to be overlooked is the plethora of choices on Beale Street. Silky O'Sullivans, B.B. King's and Rum Boogie are a few of the favorites, but do not leave out (the newly renovated) Hard Rock Café as the top family friendly restaurant in the area.
While you are in the neighborhood you should visit the National Civil Rights Museum, attend an event at FedEx Forum and tour the Gibson Guitar Factory.
Memphis, Tennessee has supported minor league baseball in the past and did so admirably. That was on a smaller scale and for a AA team. Since AutoZone Park's primary tenant is AAA for the St. Louis Cardinals, the stakes have been raised. That serves as the anchor for this fan base and always will. Walk around the ballpark and you will see jerseys for the most popular Cardinals players at that time everywhere. These fans have seen Albert Pujols, Rick Ankiel, J.D. Drew, Chris Carpenter and many more step on the field.
The fans will not burn cars when they win the Pacific Coast League Title (2000, 2009) but neither does attendance drop dramatically during losing seasons. The social aspect for the atmosphere is long for going away, but the baseball junkie-ness exists in excess because of Cardinal Nation. They live and die with the team in Missouri, but they feel forever attached because of the team in Tennessee.
AutoZone Park is centrally located in downtown Memphis. If you work in the downtown or midtown areas, then you are no more than a 5 or 10 minute drive away. Other parts of the city and suburbs can be 20 - 40 minutes away, depending on traffic flow.
Once you get into the downtown area there is seemingly unlimited parking within a reasonable walk as the district has over 20,000 parking spaces. If you arrive early enough, the possibilities include garages on the property at the Toyota Parking Garage, across the street or a half a block away. You will not miss the opportunity to get to AutoZone Park because of lack of parking. As with any urban environment, you should study a map to understand what roads are one ways and what roads will lead you to the garage you want.
The best advice is to get downtown early, get your choice of garage, walk around to see the area and get in the park early to enjoy the pre game festivities.
The most expensive tickets are for the Club Level and they are generally a little over $20 (depending on ticket package and night). These are elevated seats and stretch from behind home plate all the way down the baselines to the Party Decks. I have found these to be the best option if you are bringing kids. The concourse for these seats is enclosed and therefore is air conditioned. Inside of this area are concession stands, restrooms and a central open area for the kids to play/relax and a bar for the parents to place an order (all still air conditioned). Young children (and many adults) struggle with heat and humidity for 9 innings so this creates a perfect space for relief.
Other ticket costs are dependent on the section, but goes all the way down to $6 - $9 which is the TruGreen Bluff, a grassy knoll in left field that is first come first serve. Bring your own beach towel and you and your whole family can spread out and watch the game; and get ready for the sure to come home run ball.
More than likely you will spend more on gas and parking than you will for your ticket. The Return on Investment is ranked so high because the game can be used for all types of outings: church group, family jaunt, 20-somethings going out before a night on Beale, middle-agers just getting out, etc...
Every year in early December one of the most popular marathons in the country is in Memphis, Tennessee. The St. Jude Memphis Marathon treks through downtown Memphis and the finish line is in AutoZone Park. This may not seem like much, but 15,000 people cross this finish line every year. Half marathoners and full marathoners finish on the field. If you are interested, enroll early, as it fills up very quickly.
If you are bringing kids or you like the carnival atmosphere, swing by the Boardwalk outside of left field. There are multiple games for all ages, rides for all ages and some specific for the little ones. A giant Rockey the Redbird blow up is the center piece and will quickly make him your child's favorite mascot. Between the Boardwalk and the TruGreen Bluff is a playground that would rival one at any large school.
The TruGreen Bluff is one of the treasures of Memphis. Try finding someone who has not sat there. On weekend games and especially fireworks games the grassy area is at capacity. It's cheap, it's comfortable and it is VERY easy to go to a game with a large group at the last minute and sit together.
AutoZone Park's newest toy is the jewel of minor league baseball. Their video board is 60' tall by 60' wide and stands 13 stories over the field. Many MLB teams would love to have this scoreboard. Highlights, stats, advertisers, field promotions are all in HD. I wonder sometimes how they fill the space with enough information. A fan NEVER has to wonder about stats for the game or struggle because the sun's glare is disruptive to the lighting on the board. Not with 1,440,000 pixels!
If you need a place for a large party like a corporate outing, then AutoZone Park has choices for you. There are two decks on the ends of each Club Level that host parties with buffets. Normally, your seats would still be on the Club Level also (remember the air conditioning). In right field is the Delta Dental Picnic Pavilion. This is a large space near the video board in which you can serve food, but it also has table tops you can sit/stand at and watch the ball game as well.
AutoZone Park should be on your list of things to see if you visit Memphis. As you drive around downtown, you will not miss the stadium as the front is very welcoming. If you walk by on game night you will probably hear a band in the front atrium area and see kids running around the statue baseball players.
Come to the game for baseball, the scenery, the food, the social aspect or for all of those reasons. Or just come because you might be watching the next great St. Louis Cardinal playing.
Opened in 2000 and ushering in both a new century and a new era of professional sports in Memphis, TN, AutoZone Park is, simply put, one of the finest minor league baseball stadiums in America. From its neo-traditional design (based on iconic Camden Yards) to the Bluff out in left field, everything about AutoZone Park is designed to provide a unique, thoroughly enjoyable baseball experience.
Anyone living in Memphis at the time the stadium was being erected remembers some of the nightmares that the builders had to endure: the huge price tag ($80.5 million, by far the highest in minor league stadium history) which led to heavy resistance from the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County; the drawn out, acrimonious and very public arguments over where to locate the park; and construction delays, including the cavernous hole in the ground that flooded during the site preparation phase and led to derision throughout the region.
But my, oh my, was the end result worth the tribulations the builders (project manager Beers-Inman) and Memphis-area fans had to endure!
Ground broke on January 16, 1998, and the stadium was opened on April 1, 2000, one year later than original plans. But it was a smashing success for its Memphis-based designers, Looney Ricks Kiss Architects, with the assist to consultants from Kansas City's Populous (or HOK Sport, as it was known at the time, who designed Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992). By any measure, AutoZone Park is a favorite, unanimously praised for beauty, comfort and functionality. The pinnacle of the praise came in 2009 when the track was named by esteemed Baseball America as the top stadium in the minors, with one minor league official calling it "the Taj Mahal of minor league baseball."
No expense was spared in the erection of AutoZone Park. There were far too many amenities for us to tour on just one preview, so subsequent updates will examine more of the intricacies of the stadium. But the subterranean regions of the stadium""once dubbed as "the ugly hole in the ground" by skeptical Memphians as the project lagged far behind schedule""include three tunnels, batting cages and some of the most sprawling clubhouses in the minors.
The project was managed by Beers-Inman in a joint venture between Beers Construction Co. and Inman Construction Co. Financing was primarily through the issuance of tax-exempt public bonds, totally $72 million and saddling the non-profit Memphis Redbirds Baseball Foundation with a yearly bond payment of nearly $5 million, roughly 10 times what the normal minor league organization has to pay. With this unique ownership model in place, the Redbirds join the Green Bay Packers as the only professional sports franchises to be classified as non-profit community foundations.
Memphis-based AutoZone purchased naming rights for $4.3 million over 25 years, or $188,000 per annum including interest.
The listed capacity at the stadium is 14,320. There are exactly 12,500 seats in the building, and the TruGreen Bluff in leftfield (more on that in a minute) can accommodate about 1,820. But the Delta Dental Picnic Pavilion in rightfield can hold up to 500 more, and there are second-level open-air party decks which can squeeze in a total of 350 and there are 48 club suites on two levels, so the venue could actually hold some 16,000 people safely or more for concerts or special events. There are even three party balconies which do not have a view of the stadium but are beautiful spots to have special company or family outings.
The only difference between AutoZone Park and a major league venue is the amount of seating. Looney Ricks Kiss and Populous (HOK) settled on the elegant, open concourse design, allowing fans the luxury of never missing the game, even when going for concessions or a bathroom break. And the outfield is dominated by one of the largest scoreboards in all minor league baseball, towering to 127' above the field and measuring 23' wide by 20' tall. The video board can produce a staggering 16.2 million colors.
Out in leftfield is one of the most distinctive features in all of baseball: the TruGreen Bluff. No chairs allowed. It's a lush hillside area designed to provide a unique spectator view of the game. People on a date can share a blanket. Kids can get discarded boxes (gleefully provided by the Redbirds, if the youngsters happen to forget their own) and slide down any slope they find. And tickets for the Bluff are sold at a discounted price. It's a tradition like no other in professional sports, and a fantastic way to take in a baseball game in Memphis, TN. Just bring an umbrella, in case it rains!
By the numbers, AutoZone Park contains 17,586 cubic yards of concrete; 227 miles of electrical wiring; 6,800,000 pounds of structural steel in the infrastructure; and 125,738 square feet of brick wall around the park, including 380,000 specially made bricks which give the stadium its unique appearance. 350 tons of clay and 5,000 tons of sand were used putting together the playing surface, and the outfield required 100,000 square feet of sod. The drainage system removes one inch of water per hour and still be playable.
The park, like many others in the Pacific Coast League, is a bandbox. The dimensions are 319 to left, 400 to straight away center, 322 to right, and just 360 to the power alleys.
If you live in Memphis and you want to see a little baseball go to AutoZone park to see a Redbirds game. Take your family on a firework night. Tickets are little pricey but it is worth it. The food is as good as baseball food can get.
If someone asked me to describe my time at AutoZone Park, my answer would simply be BBQ nachos and Elvis. You have to get the nachos.
150 Peabody Pl
Memphis, TN 38103
183 Beale St
Memphis, TN 38103
126 Beale St
Memphis, TN 38103
450 Mulberry St
Memphis, TN 38103
1180 Union Ave
Memphis, TN 38104
185 Union Ave
Memphis, TN 38103